Tag Archives: Bunkers

I’m going deeper Underground

Ever since I became friends with Dietmar, he’s been keen on the idea of me working for his Association, Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworlds). There was just one small problem: the working language of the Association is German and being able to say my name and order white or red wine didn’t quite qualify as “working German”.

Fast forward a year or so and DD and I were conducting most of our conversations in German rather than English. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised, but the upshot was that DD declared me ready to start. Gulp.

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However, DD declaring it and it actually happening were two very different things. Obviously I had to go through the same process as every other new employee and, this being Germany, it’s a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong process.

Meetings were had, documents were exchanged. Words like “Sozialversicherungsbeiträge”, “Vereinsbarungbestandteile” and “Lohnsteuerbescheinigung” were tossed around. I nodded sagely (and Googled wildly when I got home). After a few short months, I was ready to begin training.

Scheiße
Scheiße

For anyone who doesn’t know about Berliner Unterwelten, they offer a series of tours exploring Berlin’s underground architecture, including air raid shelters, caverns, disused railway tunnels and other places the public normally has no access to. I would begin my training on “Tour 1 – Dark Worlds”, which takes visitors through a maze of a WW2 bunker at Gesundbrunnen Station.

Every tour has a guide and an assistant and I would be starting as an assistant. Basically, the assistant is responsible for getting everyone in and out, making sure there are no tour pile-ups in the bunker, keeping people together and making sure nobody is doomed to wander the labyrinth forever, enforcing bunker rules, and responding quickly if there is some sort of emergency.

In order to be able to do this, I had to do three tour “walk-throughs” with various trainers, a technical and a bureaucratic training session, and a final test. In German.

Trainer: How do you think you did? 

Me: I think I was awesome.

Anyway, I passed.

Time to celebrate!
Time to celebrate!

Yesterday was my first day. I quickly realised that my Underworld small talk could use a little polishing.

Me: Do you want to be a “Führer” some day?

Assistant: We prefer to use the word “Guide”. For obvious reasons. 

Me: Right you are. 

My first group was a German one. I opened the door successfully (yay me) and counted people in as I checked their tickets. While everyone was busy listening to the guide, one woman came over and sat on the steps. Uh oh.

We moved on to the second room. She immediately came over and sat on the steps in there, too.

Woman: Can you please let me out? I don’t feel well…

I’ve been on countless Unterwelten tours and not one person has ever had to leave. Just my luck.

Thankfully, we weren’t far from the front door so I led her out and asked her if she was OK. She responded by vomiting all over the ground. I took that as a “NEIN”.

It did not smell of roses
It did not smell of roses

Despite being trained in getting people out as quickly as possible in situations just like this, I realised that I had no idea what to do with them once they actually were out. My bedside German (or English, for that matter) is pretty much non-existent so I made a few sympathetic noises and handed her a plastic bag, just in case there was a round two. I told her there was a restaurant nearby and she could go there and clean herself up a bit. She asked me to get her friend.

So, on my very first tour, I had to interrupt the guide, speak loud German in front of a roomful of Germans and escort the friend out of the bunker as well. Baptism of fire. And puke.

I called the office to tell them what had happened and they suggested I dilute the vomit by pouring some water on it. I did and improvised by placing a couple of tissues over it, too. It looked ten times worse but there wasn’t much else I could do. I went back in, did the rest of the tour and everyone emerged alive at the end of it. In short, a roaring success.

The two tours I’ve done since were, mercifully, less eventful.

Guide: It is forbidden to take photos anywhere in the bunker.

Japanese tourist 1: Can I take a photo?

Me: NEIN.

Japanese tourist 2, 3, 4, 5…: Can I take a photo of this?

ME: NEIN!

***

Guide: Please do not touch the paint in the next room. It’s a special type of fluorescent paint and mildly toxic. 

Spanish tourist: Can I touch the paint?

Me: (Why on earth would you want to touch toxic paint??) No, lo siento. 

Anyway, I live to assist another day. I’m not sure I’ll ever rock the “safety orange” vest I have to wear, but they’re not paying me to be a bunker fashionista. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spray some more perfume up my nose.

 

 

 

A tour and a tribute

Yesterday, the lovely Dietmar arranged for me to do a tour with his company – Berliner Unterwelten.

What a nice thing to do, I hear you say. And really, it was all the more so as this was the third time he’d arranged it. Honestly, I don’t know why this man puts up with me.

My flatmate saw this and thought of me. Cute.
My flatmate saw this and thought of me. Cute.

He had originally wanted me to do a tour of the flak tower in Humboldthain Park and organised it several weeks ago. I was instructed to be at the office no later than 2.45 to pick up my ticket. As I’m practically German now, this was no problem. I was even a few minutes early. Unfortunately, it was the wrong office.

After a dash on the underground, I made it to the right office at around two minutes after three. The girl was very nice about it, but the tour had already started so I was out of luck. (Incidentally, this girl would become my new landlady around two weeks after this – small world.)

The next week, Dietmar kindly arranged for me to do the tour again. This time, I was on time, at the right office – but unfortunately in the wrong shoes. I’d somehow missed the bit in the programme about sturdy footwear being a must. After four years in Latvia, sturdy footwear is just not in my vocabulary.

After apologising profusely again, Dietmar organised a ticket for me yesterday. Unfortunately, the flak tower tour is now finished until April – bats take over the building as their preferred hibernation destination – so I was going to do Tour M instead, “Under the Berlin Wall”.

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Dietmar also provided me with a ticket for the Germania exhibition which I was to go to before the tour. My landlady handed over the tickets, gave me directions on how to find the museum and off I went. I realised shortly afterwards that I clearly hadn’t been listening properly.

For anyone who has never been in Gesundbrunnen station, this place is a maze in mental asylum green. I went up and down stairs and escalators, in and out of doors, walked along platforms, and did more u-turns than a vodka-fuelled Latvian driver. Eventually, after a rather one-sided German conversation with a transport worker, I found it.

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You’d be forgiven for not realising this was a museum, right?
“Myth of Germania” is an absolutely fascinating insight into the mind of a megalomaniac. Aided and abetted by the architect, Albert Speer, “Myth of Germania” explores Hitler’s planning of an über metropolis, “not meant merely to serve Berlin’s citizens with a modernized habitat but rather as a representation of the Nazi regime’s sheer power.”

Saying that I enjoyed it sounds all sorts of wrong – “enjoy” is just not the right word for an experience like this, but it’s an important and extremely well put-together exhibition and one that I highly recommend. (Drop me a line and I’ll give you detailed instructions on how to find it…)

After a quick cuppa, I made my way back to the meeting point for the tour. I was a) early, b) in the right place, and c) in the correct footwear. Success.

The (rather cute German) tour guide had everyone’s attention right from the beginning as we explored bunkers and heard stories of the Germans’ ingenuity in figuring out ways to escape East Germany, by going under the Berlin wall. The transport system, the sewerage system and self-made tunnels were all utilised and we got up close and personal with two out of three.

Jumping the Wall - while it was still possible.
Jumping the Wall – while it was still possible.

We learned of the successes and the failures, the tales of true love, and the sheer bravery and spirit of these people that just would not be kept down. Although everyone knows about the Berlin Wall, this tour really hammered home the human aspect of it.

After (finally) managing to take one of the Berliner Unterwelten tours, I can’t even find the words to say how much I admire Dietmar for setting up this association. If you ask him about it, he’ll be incredibly modest, so I’m going to blow his trumpet for him – which I’m sure he’ll hate…

Established in 1997, Berliner Unterwelten researches and documents Berlin’s underground. I may not be completely correct with the figures, but I think in its first year, BU had 3,000 visitors; last year, it passed the 280,000 mark. And although 450 people are part of this organisation, it really is a testament to the awesomeness that is Dietmar.

Easily one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met, I think meeting him on my first night here was probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. (And his brother can sing the Irish anthem.)

In this city which I now call home, but that is still relatively new to me, it’s amazing that I already have someone that I can call a true friend. I honestly feel that with him in my life, anything is possible. And if that’s too mushy for most of my readers to handle, “tough titty” as another good German friend once said.

So, if you come to Berlin, be sure to check out one of BU’s tours. Who knows, some day, I might even be your tour guide – as soon as my German gets good enough to call emergency services in case you have a heart attack on my watch…